Sunday, December 29, 2019

Bring it On

Can't believe it's been seven years since Megan Abbott's Dare Me came out. Now that we're hours away from the debut of the television series adaptation of the book (on USA network) it seemed like a good time to re-post this piece I wrote for another site back in 2012.


While watching the Olympic gymnastic competition the other night, I found myself marveling at the unreality of the feats those (very young) ladies performed, and at the end of the evening, disappointed that I'd somehow missed the cheer event. My momentary slip in Olympic-know is easily attributed to having just read the fantastic cheerleading-centered book Dare Me by Megan Abbott, and being carried away on a wave of mutilation and admiration for the rigors of the under-sung team sport of cheerleading. Regardless your associations with the cheerleader's image (check out Megan's essay on the cultural cheerleader in the New York Times), I bet you're as unprepared as I was for this vision of shiny-faced, bow-string taught-bodied warriors who engage it like bloodsport. Gone, it seems, are the days of simple dance routines, and investment in the boy's sports they're supposedly existing to promote. These girls are in parallel competitions with the opposing squad and themselves as they hurl each other through deadly demonstrations of precision and coordination you could set your watch to.

Dare Me marks Abbott's second foray into the sometimes dark territory of the development of teenaged girls and while last year's The End of Everything focused on an the loss of innocence (and another high school nu jock - a field hockey player obsessed with the bruises and scars of her battles), Addy, the heroine this time around may take a back seat in the clash of personalities that drives the book, but she's already left her kid gloves behind.

When the squad gets a new coach at the beginning of the school year, it's a scene straight out of a Marine Corps drama - the platoon and the drill sgt. sizing each other up - and the conflict sparked in that opening (between Addy's best friend/rival the squad captain and the coach) sets Addy squarely in the middle when things really go sideways.

And they do. Big time.

The mystery unfolds late in the book - allowing for our complete submersion into the characters' mindsets before we're asked to choose sides, select the alibi that pleases us most (or upsets us least). When one of the characters is found shot through the mouth in an apparent suicide... yeah, the crime scene doesn't really add up, and Addy has plenty to hide of her own involvement nevermind making impossible choices of loyalty, and keeping her head in the game. Nothing builds the suspense of the success of a death defying stunt like the suspicion that someone involved may have it in for you (more than one scene in this book had me remembering Stunt Man - about a movie stunt man who thinks that his director is trying to kill him).

But the show must go on. The tunnel vision of the narrative voice is such that, though we are with these girls for several months, and we see clues about the affluent neighborhood Addy's grown up in, there is nary a glimpse of her parents (we assume that she is an only child), and though a large portion of the story takes place on school grounds there is hardly a mention of any non-cheer-squad students. Even a squad member who suffers an injury and is forced to watch from the sidelines is rendered 'other' when she makes the observation that watching the routines from a distance "it's like you're trying to kill each other and yourselves." - to which Addy replies "You were never one of us."

The single-mindedness is maddening, frightening and admirable in equal portions. Abbott warmly invites your opinions and pre-conceived notions inside before locking the doors and forcing them into an extreme makeover... with a blow torch... and nail polish. The militant significance of a bobbing pony tail, aggressively rouged and sparkle-spattered cheekbones now apparent, there's no un-seeing it.

Take the sports movie glitter of Bring It On, and apply it liberally to the moody hardboiled throwback sensibilities of Brick, dilute the self-conscious weaponized sexuality of Wild Things with the wide-eyed charge of early eros ala Blue Velvet and grate a block of Bully's invisibility of the outside world over the top and you've got - nothing close to Dare Me.

For anybody curious whether Dare Me is to Abbott's short story Cheer what Queenpin was to Policy, the answer is 'not really'. There is a scene very similar to the daaaaaark end of Cheer in Dare Me, though it's not got nearly as nasty an edge to it, and is neither the book's climax, nor the instigating spark of the action.

Top shelf stuff.


If the televised version of Dare Me is your first exposure to Megan's work lemme suggest you rectify that quick-like. I'm especially fond of her first four mid-century noirs; Die a Little, The Song is You, Queenpin and Bury Me Deep and thankfully we live in a world where I've still got books to catch up on.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Calvaire

Is there a better time than Christmas to set a story about the tawdriness of showbiz? The Christian holy night of Emmanuel's birth, divinity assuming human form in the lowliest circumstances (no room in the inn, born in a barn, trough for a cradle); immeasurable worth cloaked in refuse has been  turned inside out and is now celebrated with the cheapest, plastic, tackiness intended to convey the deepest, warmest, most joyous emotions.

This too is showbiz. A little pancake makeup, a cheap suit seen through a fog machine and a strobe light... A little subterfuge artfully employed can provoke momentary distractions on the surface as well as immodest subterranean shifts... it's magic that way. But the magician's experience is entirely different.

Meet Marc (Laurent Lucas) singer, entertainer, conjurer, a performer of showtunes and soft-rock standards touring a fifth-tier circuit serenading the elderly, infirm and dispossessed, nightly transforming their shabby circumstance into a magical realm of unrestrained possibility. He summons their youth and vitality, and gives them the sense that they made something more of their raw material and opportunity, that the thing they've been hung up on for decades is still within their grasp or ability to control.

Every night. He fuckin does it every night. And Christmas? It's an important time for anybody whose living is made distracting people from their lives. So when he is waylaid by vehicular misadventure in a rugged, rural enclave of Belgium you'd best believe he's motivated to get to the next town and his next booked gig and meal ticket.

Fate has fucking other things in store. But when the chips are down or when a line is flubbed, when lights burn out or wardrobes malfunction, does a professional break the spell and take five? No. The show must go on. 
Marc's Ordeal is going to be more than car trouble though he will go on a journey. It will be more than a missed gig though he will cast a spell and deeply, profoundly entertain his audience. His role will be challenging, a mystery he must solve while performing. There will be animals, but he will not be upstaged. There will be music and dance, but nothing you might hear in his normal act.

Nothing like some time spent at the mercy of a dark foreboding forest, a backwoods mechanic and a village populated by strange, off putting locals and their quaint horrifying ways to make you yearn for the familiar pathetic life of a touring retirement home gigolo, eh?

Fabrice Du Welz' feature debut is a hell of thing and a thing of hell full of unnerving sequences and slow, roiling stomach churns. The horror takes its time too so there's plenty of room to experience each phase from frustration and discomfort to desperation and unease right on through to mortal terror and then real scares are explored.

It's also funny. Sick to your stomach kind of funny, but hey kinda hilarious... if David Lynch's Deliverance sounds like your jam give it a go. Merry CrimesMas.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Better Watch Out

Chris Peckover's Better Watch Out (co-written with Zack Kahn) is a Christmas movie because it's set at Christmas time and the atmosphere is so steeped in the holiday season by virtue of its single suburban home locale setting being decorated with Christmas lights and trees, the actors wearing colorful sweaters and the music full of bells and choral renditions of Christmas songs. Otherwise, there's nothing remotely Christmas-y I can find about it.

No immigrant story, no savior born, zero wise men, gifts given, families bonding, angels bringing comfort in the night, no peace or goodwill toward fucking anyone. It's creepy, fucking thriller though.

And slippery.

I'm trying not to give too much away and I would discourage you from watching trailers, but I will say it begins with a familiar comedic set-up: twelve year old kid (Levi Miller) on the verge of being too old for a sitter with a wild crush and plan to make a move on his childhood babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) who's back in town for the winter break. While she makes plans to sneak her boyfriend over after the kid's in bed, the kid is daydreaming and scheming with his friend strategies for making her receptive to his advances... scary movie on TV to encourage physical closeness and carefully reasoned arguments to push back against her protestations of their age-gap.

After his plan fails, she rebuffs him and he's frustrated and humiliated and vulnerable and she's embarrassed and a little angry and the atmosphere is just pretty ripe with awkwardness it becomes apparent that they're being observed by a creeper outside determined to get in.

And so we transition from horny-kid comedy to psycho, stalker, home-invasion thriller with twists to keep the familiar genre-beats appealingly appalling and every carefully peeled layer of 'oh, they're going there?' reveal a comedic core dark enough for some raspy har-hars from the choked-by-the-saccharine-of-the-season holiday movie crowd.

Mix an 80s ditch-your-virginity comedy with equal part Home Alone, Straw Dogs and American Psycho... I think I should stop there except you have to know that the parents are played by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Mr. Soft Touch

The film opens with Glenn Ford in a car chase pursued by a vehicle full of armed thugs that he loses at a draw bridge. Then, in a tense slow-procession waiting to cross the Golden Gate bridge he's approached by a charity-bell-ringing Santa Claus looking for donations. Santa pushes a collection plate (upside down tambourine actually) through the window across the passenger seat at him and he reaches into his pocket and donates some change prompting Santa Claus to thank him and tell him he's a good man. Ford smiles and salutes Santa before reaching over to make sure that the sack full of cash he's got on the front seat is secure.

This is Joe Miracle the titular character in Henry Levin & Gordon Douglas's Mr. Soft Touch. Miracle, we soon learn, is a WWII vet returned to San Francisco to find that the nightclub he used to run has been taken over by a gangster who has also killed his former partner. In a fit of righteous anger and a display of pretty legit badassery he robbed the joint in broad daylight and made off with a hundred thousand dollars in mob money that he's considering his buyout.

He didn't wear a mask, everybody knew who he is, and now that he's lost the car full of gunmen he's got to find a place to lie low while he waits for his boat to Japan that leaves the next night - Christmas Eve.

While checking in on his former partner's family it becomes clear to everyone that his presence in their home will put everyone at risk (there are even radio bulletins about his daring robbery and naming him as the perpetrator) and he puts his mind to work on staying safe and out of sight until his boat is ready.

His first idea is to get himself arrested and spend a night in jail surrounded by cops, but his attempt to take the fall for a wife beater (check out the domestic abuse yuks in this scene - they're a hoot) is thwarted by Jenny Jones a do-gooder social worker (Evelyn Keyes) who talks the judge into remanding the down on his luck working man into her custody instead.

At first Miracle is frustrated by the arrangement, but he quickly warms to the situation when she takes him back to the home that she runs - a men's shelter and community center where neighborhood kids can spend time when home life or street life is a bit too much. Miracle is taken aback by Jenny's self-less existence living to serve and genuinely caring for all the rag-tag crew that clearly depend on her, but he's also appalled by the lack of resources at her disposal to take care of all theses people.

Later revelations will illuminate exactly why it means so much to this street-wise, gambler, club-operator and battle-hardened soldier to see someone caring for these needy folks, but the audience soon learns why the movie is called Mr. Soft Touch because Joe begins trying to cover all the shelter's shortfalls through off-screen calling in of chits and twisting arms throughout the city's underworld.

The other spinsterly social workers are appalled by the unexplained windfall of resources pouring in from mysterious benefactors. They see evil or at least untrustworthy roots and want to turn away the truckloads of blankets and towels and other supplies delivered by gruff working stiffs, but for Jenny the sudden turn in fortune only reaffirms her faith in the goodness of people and her chosen life's work.

Disaster is right around the corner though because the same presence that brought the presents also threatens the safety and well-being of everyone everywhere he goes. When the gangster discover Joe is hiding out it leads to a fire which destroys the shelter.

Joe's final plan for setting things right involves dressing like a charity-bell-ringing Santa Claus and crashing the Christmas Eve festivities which have turned into a fund-raiser to rebuild the shelter and no points for guessing how much money he manages to drop into the donation box before being gunned down in full Santa drag in the gutter whilst trying to leave town.

Holy crap, this feel good Christmas crime comedy ends abruptly and noirish as Joe dies in the street begging Jenny to haul him out of the gutter because he swore he wouldn't die there. She holds him and tells him he's not in the gutter, which is a lie, but at least he's not alone.

He dies having become everybody else's Christmas Miracle.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

My first Bond was Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights which I fucking loved as a twelve year old. I knew the name Bond, James Bond, but the movies (nevermind the books) were not part of my family's cultural consumption. Being the son of a preacher I grew up understanding popular culture first through the lens of the moral behavior of the hero and 007 was a severely compromised hero, mostly because of his endless womanizing. Even understanding this I fell hard for his onscreen adventures when I first encountered them.

Dalton didn't last long in the role. The next several Bondian escapades I embarked upon were of the Roger Moore variety and sure I enjoyed them too, though even I could tell there was silliness afoot, but one snowy night I tuned into the terrestrial local television station for a broadcast of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and found an altogether different Bond than I'd previously encountered.

One that I was more attuned to and intrigued by. Fair warning: spoilers follow.

George Lazenby's single turn in the role marked a temporary franchise shift from hi-tech gadgetry and over the top set pieces, though there's only so much fealty to physics and probability that Ian Fleming, director Peter R. Hunt and most importantly producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were capable of (and of course those limits are a huge part of their appeal - this is not a criticism) and Bond still finds himself involved in a great number physical challenges including skiing on one plank in the dark, a wonderful climactic bobsled chase and the rigors of sexually satisfying multiple partners in a single night (Bond robotically delivers verbatim seduction lines to an unexpected late night visitor in his room that we'd heard him give a beautiful mark playfully a few minutes earlier, culminating with the flattery "you inspire me," this time adding the addendum "you'll have to" before taking a deep breath and getting to it).

The movie is notable also for its especially tragic romance as Bond confesses his love to Diana Rigg and even goes so far as to marry her before what must always happen to Bond's women happens to her. In fact it's the final moment of the movie making it, as far as I know, the only Bond movie to end on such a sad moment and the fact that Lazenby never returns in the role makes that climax even more emotionally resonant.

The film takes place in December in the Swiss Alps high atop a mountain peak in a research facility looking down upon a ski resort and the climactic action on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the film's snowy locale and sets are decorated with Christmas fare all the way through from a sleigh ride, Christmas trees, strings of lights, presents, spiked egg nog and boughs of holly.

The action may be less spectacle-driven than other franchise entries, but the multiple hand to hand contests are robust and energetically edited. Christmas makes its way into action as during one fight Bond bangs his adversary's head against bells, and even the title sequence ends with a sexy silhouetted configuration arguably resembling a nativity scene.

Personally I prefer the flavor of Bond on display here and in something like From Russia With Love to the excesses of Moonraker and Die Another Day (though I do enjoy something from every one of the franchise leads), but if you're looking for a Bondian Holiday double feature you could pair On Her Majesty's Secret Service with The World is Not Enough because Christmas doesn't have to come only once a year.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Thomas Pluck on Go

Merry Crimesmas! Go (1999) dir. Doug Liman

Quentin Tarantino made a lot of movies he never imagined. After Pulp Fiction exploded like Marvin’s head against the rear window glass, we were subjected to a spate of imitators of varying quality, where every crook had a clever nickname (Like Mr Shush in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) and no one could tell a story in a linear fashion, which at least gave us entertaining flicks that are good if you don’t really think about them much, like Memento and The Usual Suspects. (Thankfully, Tony Scott filmed the QT script of True Romance in chronological order and made one of the best QT movies, but we continued to get unnecessary nonlinear storytelling for years afterwards.)

Doug Liman got notice with the Jon Favreau-scripted Swingers, which spoofed the infamous Steadicam shot through the Copacabana in Goodfellas and also inadvertently kicked off a ‘30s swing-dance craze that inflicted the Cherry-Poppin’ Daddies and the Squirrel Nut Zippers upon us all. And when Go, written by John August, mimicked Rashomon and Pulp Fiction with its nonlinear story and point-of-view switching, he was written off as a QT imitation until he made the best of the Bourne movies, the first one, where you can see the fights and enjoy a Mini Cooper chase without needing a vomit bag. (And I like Greengrass, but his Bourne movies suffer in comparison. His style worked perfectly for United 93, a movie I didn’t want but appreciated after watching, but like QT, his micro-cut fight sequence style has been mimicked and inflicted upon us long after he gave it up).

But I’m supposed to talk about Go. It begins at a supermarket where Ronna works with her slacker pals Mannie and Claire, hiding behind the rows of orange juice and playing trivia games to avoid work, snarking at the annoying customers, but unlike the guys in Clerks we actually believe they need these shitty jobs. Ronna (Sarah Polley, Dawn of the Dead) is short on rent and about to be evicted. Polley is perfectly natural in this role, and spouts snarky ‘90s Reality Bites-aware dialogue but makes it work. She’s like us. She’s seen those movies, but exists outside of them. She’s the foundation that will keep the wilder characters grounded.

Her sleazeball Brit-trash drug-dealing coworker offers her his shift with money up front so he can go to Vegas with his supplier’s borrowed (stolen? I wouldn’t put it past sleazy Simon…) credit card, and party with his pals. She hates him but takes it because she’s desperate. Then two sexy small-time actors played by comedian Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf (Party of Five) ask her to get them some X, since Simon was their supplier and he’s off wanking in Vegas (more on that later). Ronna sees a way out of her eviction; she’ll go to Simon’s dealer and buy 20 hits, pay her rent, and party all night at the Mary Sex-Mas rave with her pals. What could go wrong?

Todd Gaines is played by Timothy Olyphant in one of his first bad-boy roles, with devilish sideburns and a perfect asshole attitude. All he’s missing is a pet snake (he has an evil black cat instead) and a loser laughing on his couch playing video games*. “Oh, the good drug dealer!” is what he’ll sarcastically be called by Taye Diggs, the smartest of Simon’s pals in their sequence, which comes later, but I wanted to share here. It’s the perfect description, as Olyphant comes off as a little cuddly with his Santa hat and sardonic comments, but he’s no one to cross. Ronna earnestly tells him her deal (“this is my deal”, sounding like Jerry from Fargo) and he tells her how that’s doing her a favor, and he gives head before he gives favors—a little QT-inspired dialogue, we’ll get more of that later, but never a sickening amount—but she manages to convince him to sell her 20 hits, and to the story’s credit, head is never an option. Ronna has her head on her shoulders. We’re never told she’s a lesbian, but I bet she has jumper cables in that shitbox car she drives (she’s the only friend with a car). She isn’t fazed by sexy shirtless Todd Gaines, and she fends off sleazy Simon’s offer of an extra twenty bucks for a blowjob without even a “you wish,” because she has no interest in sexual power. I wonder, if like Ripley, her character was originally written as male?

When she goes to sell the X, the two actors have a new friend, icy-eyed William Fichtner, and she senses a trap. Cool as a cucumber, seventeen-year-old Ronna dumps the pills down the toilet and chugs the beer the narc offered her, mentioning that she’s underage as a final fuck-you. But then she has no money, no drugs, and Mannie stole two pills of the “medical grade, not crunchy herbal shit” … which will backfire on him later. Not much later, as Ronna always has a plan, and she takes him to a different supermarket to buy allergy pills that look like the X, so she can sell it back to Gaines, no harm no foul. Once the X kicks in on Mannie, we get one of my favorite superfluous movie scenes ever, as he trips in the supermarket and imagines himself dancing the Macarena with the checkout woman:

 Liman knows how to shoot a fun, frenetic scene to music. He outdoes this with the car chase set to Magic Carpet Ride, one of the best set to film, but I get ahead of myself. Let’s just say Ronna sells the drugs back to Todd, then tries to make rent selling fake X at the rave, and he figures it out…and bad things happen to her. He comes seeking revenge, and she’s hit by a Miata as she flees, and he shrugs and is glad his dirty work’s been done for him.

End Ronna, for now. The script cuts to Simon and his douchey pals, with the elder mature leader being Taye Diggs, pre-Private Practice sex bomb. There’s a dialogue interlude with the worst character in the film, a “pretty fly for a white guy” named Tiny, a white guy who acts black. Diggs reacts accordingly, with a line I’ve used often, “if you were any more white, you’d be clear!” It’s not as cringe-inducing as the scene QT wrote for himself in Pulp Fiction, but close. Things get better. Diggs wears a camelhair jacket that makes him look like a valet. And after Simon nearly sets the hotel on fire having tantric sex with two drunken wedding guests, a jerk throws him the keys to his Ferrari and says “park it” … and they of course take it for a joyride to the strip club, to max out “good drug dealer” Todd’s credit card. They also find a gun in the glovebox.

Simon being Simon, they get into the champagne room and nearly immediately kicked out when he grabs the dancer’s ass. There are a lot of nice/ugly touches in the film. The bouncer goes after Diggs, assuming the black guy caused the trouble, when he’s the decent one. Simon pulls out the gun and wings the bouncer, then they are on the run. The “bad guys” have contacts with the cops, and find the hotel they’re in, and chase them all over the strip. Car chases can be boring, but this one is fast and short enough, believable because no one can drive like a stuntman. They escape to L.A., but forgot the credit card… Oops.

We get a brief scene with the older bouncer sewing up his son’s arm as he opines for the old days, when you got ahead by being better than the guy above you… unlike nowadays, when you fuck up so bad that the guy above you can’t do his job! Everyone is a bit of a sad sack here. Todd the drug dealer is kind of playing it by ear, he gets ripped off by a teenager! And these supposedly mobbed up Vegas goons can’t handle two dingbats like Simon and Marcus (Taye Diggs). But it’s a nice interlude, where we see some reality behind the Vegas neon, minor crooks who are acting the role and know they are small fish. But they got reps to protect…

And then we cut to the actors, and learn why they are buying so much orange juice and asking checkout girls for X. They’ve been caught with drugs and Fichtner is a cop using them to set up dealers. The Simon sequence is funny one way, with boobs and fire and lots of screaming, and this one’s funny another way. Like those two dogs in the Goodfellas painting, what do you want from me? They are stuck having a holiday dinner with Fichtner and his wife (Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock) who seem revoltingly wholesome, and then slowly creep them out as swingers (not the dancing kind). Which is funnier because Scott and Adam are gay, and the cop and his wife are the only two who can’t tell right away! They are a couple, and we find out when Fichtner asks about how much tail they get as actors, and Mohr tells him his “girlfriend” is cheating on him, because he found strange socks in his drawer. What Fichtner and wife are up to is a great gag that I won't ruin for you. But once you know it, come back and click this link. When Adam confronts him later, we find out they have been cheating on each other with the same guy, and they plot revenge… they go to his place and find Melissa McCarthy, who cackles with glee, because she’s been following the drama waiting for them to find out. And she tells them that Jimmy’s at a rave …

Guess which one?

The rave sequence is brief but fun, realistic and not mocking (except for the wannabe kids in the parking lot who are getting “high” off Ronna’s allergy medicine). This was the ‘90s. Every cornfield and empty warehouse was full of X, pacifiers, PLUR, and Prodigy at one point. They find Jimmy and get their revenge, and as they are flying away in their Miata, they run over Ronna.


In what could derail the entire film, we spend almost a bit too much time wondering how they’ll deal with the body, and then act like normal people and not someone in a low-budget noir, who would dismember the corpse and hide it in her mom’s minivan. No, they dump her on a Beemer and call 911.

Claire can’t find Ronna or Mannie, so she goes to their usual diner and finds Todd there, who plays it really cool, because Claire is hot for him, and he just tried to shoot her friend, and saw her get run over by a car. But the “good drug dealer” takes her home and as they are about to get busy on the stairs, his evil cat interrupts—isn’t it always the way?—and we see the mobbed up bouncer at the top of the stairs with a gun. In another great scene, it seems like it will turn into something we’ve seen before, then it gets flipped. Todd is drawing directions to send them to Simon’s place! He folds like a napkin. And then Simon shows up asking for a place to hide. This is of course ridiculous timing, but the comic energy keeps it flowing. The old man wants his son to shoot Simon through the arm, for “justice.” Simon is happy to not get killed and helpfully draws an X on his biceps, but the bouncer can’t do it. The dialogue here is more Scorsese than QT. “it’s not as easy when they are just sitting there!

Claire, like Ronna, lives in our world. She’s not a boy playing at being a mobster, a dealer, or whatever Simon is. She has had enough of the stupidity and stomps out. “Look! The girl’s leaving!” the exasperated bouncer dad says, because that’s what all this performance is for, to impress women, who couldn’t give two shits less.

Ronna sneaks out of the hospital without paying her bills, finds Claire and Mannie at the rave when getting her car, and they all pile in together like when the movie started. “What are we doing for New Year’s?

It’s a good question. I would watch that movie, too.

Go suffered from a terrible title (and the explanation for said title is as bad as that old joke, “I’m sick and tired of all these Star Wars!” / “can’t we get beyond thunderdome?” so I won’t even recount it here. But it has a following of right-minded folks like me, who overlook its excesses of dialogue and enjoy its characters and clever script, and its commonalities with The Big Lebowski a year earlier. A gaggle of unlikely characters tangled in an unlikely half-crocked criminal plot, that manages to make fun out of what could be tragedy (eviction, shootings, car crashes, drug overdoses, and cons). There are many ‘90s movies that I can’t even look at now, low-rent Guy Ritchie and Tarantino ripoffs that were amusing enough then. Go holds up and even has a good soundtrack. And unlike Clerks 2, I’d want to see where these people are now.

Mary Sex-Mas!

*dealer stereotype stolen from Lauren Hough. I am too square to know what a dealer’s living room is like, but apparently it’s a lot like guys who sold used vinyl in the classified ads in the ‘90s.

Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie and Blade of Dishonor as well as the short fiction collection Life During Wartime. He is editor of The Protectors anthologies. Keep up with him at his website and follow him on Twitter @thomaspluck.